WPLI Act receives testimony in Senate hearing
On June 7, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining met to receive testimony on 21 public land bills. U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), ranking member of the Senate Committee on ENR, discussed S. 1750 – Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI) Act of 2021.
S. 1750 was proposed “to redesignate land within certain Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) in the State of Wyoming, and for other purposes,” according to the bill. It was designed as a Wyoming County Commissioners Association (WCCA)-led process, giving the power to local people for recommendations on how Wyoming’s public lands should be managed.
“The WPLI Act would resolve the management status of thousands of acres of federal lands in seven Wyoming counties,” Barrasso said. “These acres are in WSAs, which are lands managed solely for preservation, even though they are not included in the national wilderness preservation system.”
WCCA Executive Director Jerimiah Rieman also provided comment in support of the WPLI Act.
“The WPLI requires Congressional action to implement and represents a good effort to provide Congress with sound recommendations,” he said.
According to Barrasso, in 1991, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recommended a balanced approach for Wyoming WSAs.
“Some of the land was recommended for wilderness designation, while the majority was recommended for release back to the multiple use status,” he said. “Unfortunately, here we are three decades later and these lands still remain in limbo and locked up. That’s why seven of our counties took on the issue with the WPLI.”
“Until Congress acts, these areas are treated as wilderness,” he added.
Barrasso acknowledged the WPLI Act follows recommendations from the 1991 report, and it “strikes a balance between protecting the wild places people in Wyoming love, while expanding multiple use areas our state and local economies need,” he said.
“Resolving this decades-old stalemate would increase conservation, recreation, oil and gas production and other vital multiple uses of Wyoming public lands,” he continued.
WSAs were initially established as a temporary plan, according to Rieman.
“Thirty-one years have elapsed since the BLM began managing Wyoming’s 42 WSAs,” he said.
He noted the WCCA developed the WPLI as a transparent process with defined principles and guidelines. The WCCA was determined to develop a legislative lands package, which was locally produced.
“It was very important to the WCCA we developed a process that ensured the access of anybody who wanted to participate in this process, not only in the development of this process – the principles and guidelines directing the process – but also the conversations themselves were deliberated to ensure we heard as many voices as possible,” he said. “We developed this legislation in collaboration, and that’s something I and the county commissioners are excited about.”
Throughout the hearing, both Barrasso and Rieman reiterated how important it is that S. 1750 was developed with local input to hear what the people of Wyoming had to say.
“S. 1750 was written in Wyoming, not Washington D.C.,” Rieman said. “It is the work of communities, conservation organizations, outdoor recreation groups, mineral industries, ranching and ag and wildlife associations. These organizations found common ground on wilderness designation in multiple areas, while directing alternative management to other WSAs.”
“I believe the best public lands decisions are those at the local level, locally driven, that’s why I was so proud to introduce this county-led WPLI,” said Barrasso.
Barrasso mentioned it is time for the people of Wyoming to take action on managing lands.
“It was the BLM that made the recommendations of a way to resolve the Wyoming WSAs decades ago, but even though they recommended that, the lands continue to remain in limbo because Congress hasn’t acted on those recommendations,” he said. “Doing nothing and not allowing these lands to be used to their full potential seems like a wasted opportunity.”
Barrasso shared he will continue to support the WPLI Act and the people of Wyoming.
“I look forward to continuing an open and transparent process on this issue,” he said. “It’s my firm belief it is not Washington, but the people of Wyoming who should make the decision about how to treat these lands.”
Kaitlyn Root is an editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.